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Paul Lansky and world music

One evening in October, 1990 Jonah then 14 and Caleb 9, the sons of composer, Paul Lansky were clearing the table after supper. Lansky explains they “took our kitchen apart, recording the sounds of everything they could find which would make noise (including themselves). I ran the tape machine and Hannah [his wife] ran for cover. I then transferred all the sounds to my computer, spent a few months working, and came up with this piece, “Table’s Clear.” When you listen see if you can hear his children’s voices.


Who is Paul Lansky? Beginning in the 1970’s Paul Lansky was a pioneer in the development of computer and electronic music. A man of many parts: he is a musician, composer, mentor and teacher and for 45 years, was on the music faculty at Princeton University.

Me-j admires him because of his interest in what he calls “world music,” the manipulation of sound from the everyday world.  In a New York Times interview in 2008 he spoke about his interest in “machine-made music that attempts to comment on the familiar sounds of the world, sounds made by people hitting, plucking, bowing, blowing, talking, driving, etc.”

He has used speech rhythms derived from a conversation between himself and his wife, Hannah, to make a piece he calls “Small Talk.”

Lansky’s ‘Night traffic’ literally records the sound of cars speeding by at night.

Go to Discography on Lansky’s Princeton’s homepage for more examples of the wide breadth of his work.

Lansky in a Rumpus interview with fellow composer, Joel Hoffman, discusses the narrative structure of his work and its progression and suggests listening again and again so that after a while you understand the piece in its own terms.

‘”With repeated listenings, a piece eventually becomes its own being. I very often say to students that this is like meeting a person for the first time. When you first meet someone, you reference that person with others who are similar; but, as you get to know that person better, you begin to understand his unique qualities. I think a piece of music is similar. It both references other works and also reveals its own terms.”

Now retired from Princeton, Lansky has returned to his roots as a classically trained musician and is composing for traditional instruments. He has a particular affinity with percussion and originally trained as a French horn player. Listen to his more recent music – the beautiful “Patterns” published in 2012.



Using Lansky’s work as inspiration go into the studio and experiment with sounds from your own table, as well as cooking sounds, water splashing from the faucet with different tempos. There are so many sounds you can make with china, glass, chopsticks and saucepans and build your rhythm. Then play it for your family.